EL VIAJERO

On the snow from three months old

All of Spain’s ski resorts include parks to accommodate youngsters

Children on the slopes at Panticosa.
Children on the slopes at Panticosa.

At long last, this year’s Spanish ski season has got underway following the latest snow falls. Stations that had remained closed have finally been able to open after an atypically snow-less start to the winter. And with temperatures easing, now is a great time for a family ski trip.

If everything goes smoothly, in four or five days, your children will be able to slide down the slopes easily and make sharp turns

Just as they have in many other areas, Spain’s ski resorts have made significant improvements  in terms of day care and snow parks for children over the last few years, offering facilities specially adapted for kids, including exclusive slopes where little ones can learn how to slide in safety. From the age of four, schools and specialized monitors are available to help them quickly advance in one of the few sports that can be practiced as a family.

Here we have put together an overview of the best kids facilities available in Spain’s ski resorts, complete with prices. We have also added a few basic tips for skiing with kids.

Snow gardens

Offering a mix of conventional daycare and small outdoor spaces, snow gardens are perfect for small children in a ski resort. Here kids ranging from three-month-old babies to six-year-old toddlers are safeguarded from the harsh weather in indoor spaces that offer areas where they can sleep, eat, rest and play. The majority also include outdoor areas isolated from the regular slopes where those who are slightly older can take their first steps on the snow. They usually feature a mini-slope equipped with a ski lift and inflatable objects such as dolls, mats and small houses. Those who work in these centers are professionals specialized in infant care and education.

Baqueira Beret, in the Val d’Aran, Lleida province, is the ski resort that accommodates the youngest children. Its snow park at an altitude of 1,500 meters accepts youngsters from three months to two-and-a-half years, allowing you to hit the slopes knowing your children are in safe hands. Located near to the Hotel Montarto and only a few meters from the main apartments, it is easy to access with a stroller. The staff are happy to feed your children, but you will have to provide the meal yourself. For children aged over two-and-a-half who are out of diapers, you can choose between the resort’s three other snow gardens. These are situated at an altitude of 1,800 meters in Beret and in Bonaigua – the latter is only open at weekends – and the main difference is that they provide small slopes for learning how to ski (skis and boots are free) in addition to indoor facilities. Those aged four and up can take part in combined ski school programs where the instructor will collect the children from the snow park and return them once the class is over.

The Aramón group features snow parks in every one of its resorts. The new development in Formigal, in Huesca’s Valle de Tena, this year is that the nursery and snow park have become one single installation situated right on the slopes, in the Anayet zone, allowing parents to drop off their children practically with their skis on. The youngest ones – from four months old – have zones especially equipped for them, while those aged three and up have the chance to experience their first taste of skiing on an exclusive slope where they can learn straight descents and turns. Newborns between the ages of four and six months can only stay there for a maximum of four hours a day – no food is provided. The neighboring resort of Panticosa, also in the Valle de Tena, is connected to Formigal by bus and has a park for children aged two years and up next to where the cable car arrives. Cerler, in the Valle de Bensaque, has expanded its facilities for youngsters and now offers two parks at both entrances to the station: one in El Molino – suitable for kids aged between two and six – and another in El Ampriu, for ages one to six.

Candanchú, in the Valle de Aragón, in Huesca, has a long tradition of ski schools and welcoming youngsters. Candanchulandia is a 3,000-square-meter area that includes a Nordic-style cabin for sheltering from the bad weather and an outdoor area equipped with sleds and deckchairs where kids can learn how to ski, or simply play. Close by, in the same valley, Astún also takes in children aged between one and six. Skiing parents who visit La Molina, in the Girona Pyrenees, will also find a place to leave their kids from ages six months and up there.

One of the Spanish ski resorts with the most services for kids is the Sierra Nevada, in Granada province. The Pradollano nursery school, located at the bottom of the ski slopes, accepts children from four months to six years old. Here they can eat, play and, for the older ones, take part in workshops. Among the slopes at Borreguiles, a children’s alpine park allows kids from three to six to slide, turn and brake on a specially dedicated slope. In the same area, the Chiki Club is a fast food restaurant with children’s decor and a play area. The station also offers a babysitting service for those who prefer their child to be cared for in their hotel or apartment (information and reservations: 902 70 80 90).

Learning to ski

Once your child is old enough to learn to ski, you can start looking at ski schools. Kids can begin lessons from the age of four, but it is only from around age six that they start properly understanding and have the energy to complete a day’s worth of lessons. Both private and group lessons are available, but specialists recommend group courses as kids seem to enjoy themselves more by learning from each other. At this age, they also recommend no more than three hours of lessons per day, with a break in the middle.

If everything goes smoothly, in four or five days, your children will be able to slide down the slopes easily and execute sharp turns. Doing a course every year, in three winters they should be fully trained to go down the blue and green slopes. Here is when the adults have an important role to play. Many parents hope that their children will be able to follow them down whichever slope they deem to be easy. But be careful: “You must not force the kids, first and foremost, the parents must have common sense,” says Joaquín del Rincón, director of marketing at Formigal-Panticoa. “If parents wish to ski with their children when they are learning, they need to do it within the regulated areas that enforce a controlled speed and are specifically suited for families. That way, the children will improve and you will be able to go together. Safety comes first.”

To get an idea of pricing, 15 hours of classes spread over five days cost €140 per student in Formigal (974 49 01 35), €130 in La Molina (972 14 51 16) and €144 in Sierra Nevada (902 70 80 90). In Baqueira Beret, the price for 12 hours of class over four days is €138 with Era Escola (902 218 228). Six hours of weekend classes (Saturday and Sunday) costs between €70 and €80 in the four resorts.

Ski clubs take things a step further. Some are focused on competition and molding future champions, while the more relaxed kind focuses on learning and fun. You can find them in almost every mountain range and they are well worth it if you ski regularly, every other weekend at least. The Formigal Ski Club, for example, has between 350 child members whose parents pay between €700 and €800 per season (pass and insurance separate). For more information head to www.formigal-panticosa.com or call 974 490 000.

Another example is the Era Escola ski camp in Baqueria Beret where the aim is to teach kids and teenagers how to handle themselves on the slopes, whatever the snow or weather conditions.

The right equipment

Unless you are in a ski resort, the mountains in winter can be difficult for kids and it is best not to scrimp on any equipment. Clothing needs to be adequate to protect children from the cold and damp, bearing in mind that wearing too many layers can cause overheating. Like adults, they should ideally first wear a thermal layer next to the skin, both shirt and pants, to keep them warm – it is best to avoid cotton because it doesn’t allow sweat through. Over the top of this, they should wear a fitting, not-too-thick polar layer and, if it is very cold, perhaps a third layer, such as a sleeveless top.

Clothing needs to be adequate to protect children from the cold, bearing in mind that too many layers can cause overheating

And over all of this, they should wear weatherproof pants and a jacket that allow sweat to pass through. This is the most important – and the most expensive – part of all your ski attire. Because children are constantly growing from year to year, you will need to find a compromise between quality and price. It is also important to remember that the bottom of their pants always needs to be placed over their boots to stop snow getting into them. Wool or synthetic socks provide better protection for heels and shins.

A number of accessories are also important. A buff will help stop your helmet irritating your neck and ears. Gloves should be weatherproof and allow sweat to pass through – mittens are more suitable for children because they better retain the heat and are easier to put on. A helmet and goggles are essentially for safety, protecting from impacts to the head and face in the case of a fall. They will also prevent wind burn. As for skis and boots, these are usually rented as children will need to change size every year. Boots should be one size bigger than the child’s normal size to allow space for thicker socks and general comfort.

English version by Anne-Gaelle Sy.

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